Recognition of the Instrumental Role to be played by the Law Schools in India

Dr Ranbir Singh

Hundreds of thousands of low-income clients have been well served by clinic students. Although this magnitude of assistance is very low compared to the need of indigent people for legal services, in most cases the value of the service to clients has been incomparable: avoiding homelessness, avoiding or reducing time in prison, obtaining disability benefits, securing the right to remain in the United States, obtaining safety from a threatening spouse.[1]

They reflect a reality that many “elite” law faculties in the United States now have significant contingents of “impractical” scholars, who are “disdainful of the practice of law.” This also holds true for Law Schools in India where the law schools have over emphasized on theoretical knowledge which is devoid of any practical application whatsoever. The “impractical” scholar produces abstract scholarship that has little relevance to concrete issues, or addresses concrete issues in a wholly theoretical manner.

Clinical courses expose students not only to lawyering skills but also the essential values of the legal profession: provision of competent representation; promotion of justice, fairness, and morality; continuing improvement of the profession; and professional self-development.[2] These professional values are taught and at the same time thousands of clients receive access to justice through clinical programs. In this way, clinical programs meld legal theory with lawyering skills, and students learn lawyering values by providing legal assistance to clients who would otherwise lack access to justice. The goal of educating students to this responsibility for assuring access to justice is best met if such education permeates the curriculum. Each law school course should raise issues of access to justice, with clinical courses exposing students to the reality of how these issues play out in the lives of indigent clients and the systems currently used to address their needs. If law schools are truly committed to professional values, then these values must be discussed in every class and not simply relegated to clinical courses. The biggest misconception till date is that Clinical Legal Education or Pro Bono Verito Services is a subject of academic importance only. What legal luminaries fail to observe is that it is not a subject during the last years of a law school curriculum, but it is a value system that has to be ingrained into every single individual from the moment a fresher enters into a law school.

Little attention is paid to synthesis, either of bodies of substantive law or lawyering techniques that might help the student understand how the law lives and the lawyer’s role in bringing it to life. Law schools generally do not do a good job of teaching students how to gather and digest facts that are not neatly packaged; identify the range of solutions, legal and non-legal, that might apply; determine what the limitations of a given forum might be and determine how best to work within that forum; counsel a client; and negotiate with an opponent.[3]

It is therefore significant to provide for an all-inclusive model of education which is based on social values and which is reflective of the term “Social Engineer”. The humungous role that can be played by law students in this regard has been exhibited by a few National Law Universities. The pioneering work of the Legal Aid Committee of the NLU Delhi made use of Section 32 of the Advocates Act to appear before the Court of Law and secured release of over 10 prisoners incarcerated in the prisons across India. Another significant contribution has been made by the National University of Juridical Sciences which has commenced its project called Shadhinota which is aimed at integrating all the legal aid cells in the Country and to effectuate a corpus system of free legal aid services by law school students and teachers. It is to this effect that the role played by the law schools has to be given due consideration and recognition, as it will solve dual purpose, it would bring Justice to the doorsteps of the impoverished litigant, while enabling a student to learn and be the practical lawyer, well conversed with the intricacies of the system, and more importantly sensitized with the pain and agony of the pauper, who has to reel under tremendous emotional, physical and financial trauma to fight that one case of his life.

Furthermore, by taking part in the Alternative Methods of Dispute Resolution such as Mediation, Conciliation and Nyaya Panchayats, the students can ensure an expedient and speedy disposal of cases.

Most members of the Indian legal community – law teachers, the bar, the bench, legal aid experts agreed that law schools should play an active role in the country’s fledgling legal aid movement, believing that isolation or exclusion of law schools from legal aid programs would be self-defeating for legal aid, legal education and the legal profession.[4] The time and expertise of law teachers as well as the motivated minds of enthusiastic and youthful law students were considered a national resource to be harnessed in the national interest to achieve the constitutional goal of equal justice for all.

Legal aid is a national necessity and a constitutional imperative in India;[5] massive poverty and illiteracy make the task gigantic. The nature of legal aid programs has determined the shape and activity of law school clinics; the educational benefits of clinical activity are merged with, incidental to, and not more important than the mission of contributing to the national cause of legal aid service. Thus, the view is shared widely in India by political leaders, legal educators and many lawyers and judges that law students can and should take a leading role in providing legal aid and assistance to the poor.

 

[1] Philip G. Schrag & Michael Meltsner, Reflections on Clinical Legal Education 5 (1998).

[2] American Bar Association Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, Legal Education and Professional Development – An Educational Continuum, Report of the Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap 207-21 (1992).

[3] David A. Binder & Susan C. Price, Legal Interviewing and Counseling: A Client-Centered Approach (1977).

[4] Resolutions Of The 12th All India Law Teachers Conference, 2 Delhi L. Rev. 291

(1973) (Resolution No. Ii); Jethmalani, Objectives Of Legal Education, In Legal Education In India 52, 56-57 (S. Agrawala Ed. 1973) (The Views Of Mr. Jethmalani, The Then Chairman Of The Bar Council Of India); Expert Committee Report, Supra Note 8, At 155-64; Juridicare Report, Supra Note 8, At 66-74; Sangal, Legal Services Clinic: Director’s Report, 1975-76, 4 & 5 Delhi L. Rev. 193, 195 N.2 (1975-76) [Hereinafter 1975-76 Delhi Report] (Statement Of The Then Prime Minister Of India While Inaugurating The Indian Council For Legal Aid And Advice In 1975 And The Resolution Of The 1975 National Seminar On Legal Aid And Advice).

[5] Supra Note 28.